National Geographic : 1989 May
HE DREAM of a North west Passage lured Euro . pean explorers for centuries with the promise of a quick, if hazardous, Arctic sea route across the New World to the wealth of Asia. Place-names throughout the 4,000-mile-long passage read like a roster of those who challenged its icy lab yrinth of more than 18,000 is lands-Baffin, Hudson, Davis, Foxe, Parry, Bylot, Sverdrup. Many gave their lives in the search. Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition was lost with two ships and 129 men, inspiring A book on the voyage by Jeff MacInnis entitled PolarPassagewill be published this month by Random House of Canada. dozens of subsequent expedi tions to find and rescue him, none of them successful. Finally, in 1903, the Norwe gian explorer Roald Amundsen, who was later the first to reach the South Pole, set off through the passage from east to west in his 70-foot motorized sailer, Gjda. After three years Amund sen became the first to navigate the entire passage. Others have since made the voyage, includ ing the Canadian schooner St. Roch, the U. S. supertanker Manhattan, and Arctic explorer John Bockstoce, who completed the journey in 1980 in a motor ized umiak, an Inuit walrus hide boat. But no one had ever traversed the Northwest Passage under wind power alone. Inspired by my previous journeys to the Arctic and by journals of the early explorers, I had long hoped to sail the passage. On July 20, 1986, after two years of planning, I set out with photog rapher and Arctic veteran Mike Beedell in our fiberglass Hobie catamaran from the town of Inuvik, above the mouth of the Mackenzie River. It was to take us three summer seasons to sail and haul our double-hulled craft eastward through the heart of the passage's storm- and ice racked seas to our ultimate goal, Pond Inlet by Baffin Bay. Near the end of the voyage, in August 1988, we pass beneath the sheer 2,000-foot-high lime stone cliffs at Cape Clarence (right) on the northeastern tip of Somerset Island.